From American Morris Newsletter Vol 24, No 1, Spring 2001
Interview conducted by Peter Ffoulkes and Jocelyn Reynolds, August 1999, at the Sidmouth Festival, Devon, England. Partway through we were joined by John's wife, Sally Kirkpatrick.
Many thanks to Victoria Williams for transcribing the tape, and to John for checking it over for errors! Later corrections or comments are in square brackets, as are 3 ellipses to indicate a cut in the text. Three ellipses without brackets indicate a hesitation in speech.
During the interview, the event to which John referred several times was "Border Morris: Roots and Revival;" the typescript of his talk on that day was published in Volume 23, Number 1, of the AMN. We began the interview by asking John to explain a comment he had hand written on our copy of the typescript from the event.
Pff: ... And the only other little thing which didn't seem to be quite keyed into anything was the little comment at the bottom there.
JK: Dummy Locke. O.K. Dummy Locke is a man who lives Clun, which is where we started. And you know, we do a lot of the Locke family tunes. John Locke's tunes...
JR: Oh, right ...
JK: ... as I say. And the Locke family - there's a load of Lockes still live in Clun, in that area. They're all now settled - Gypsy families are settled - but Dummy - his name is William -I think he's John Locke's nephew, or great-nephew, but he's deaf and dumb, hence he's known as Dummy. But when we started practicing, he used to quite often wander in the hall, and he has a sort of wooden stick, a round-end stick. And he's now ninety-something, or late eighties, so he's very old, but he just used to come in and stand and skip about and twirl his stick. And because he's deaf and dumb - he doesn't speak, but just goes: "Yaaah, yaaah, yaaah." And he'd speak like that: "Naaah, naaah" ... money, begging [John mimed begging, with palm out, and a horrible face]. Got all these lovely little gestures. But whenever he sees us, he just twirls his stick and: "Gaayh, yaayh!"
He quite often turns up still when we're dancing. And he, [ ... ] we think it's great. And we all go around going "Gaaagh" anyway, you know [laughter] ... started doing that. So we think it's wonderful. And lots of people just find him absolutely terrifying. So he's a kind of an occasional extra, which we all really enjoy, and it's very puzzling for people who don't understand it. [laughter] So I don't think I actually mentioned it [in his talk -ed.], but because of things that were discussed during the day, I just wrote that on, but I don't think I actually mentioned it. I can't remember. So that's who Dummy Locke is. And he's still around ... the whole family.
JR: It actually just makes me want to ask a quick question, which is: do you dance around your home town a lot, or on a regular basis?
JR: What is your hometown?
JK: Bishop's Castle.
JR: O. K.
JK: Martha Rhoden's Tuppenny Dish practice in Bishop's Castle now. Bedlams practice three miles away in a place called Lydbury North, but we go back to the same pub afterwards, in Bishop's Castle. So we started in Clun, both teams, but we've moved up to Bishop's Castle now, just a few miles away. just because the halls are better. ... So, we dance in Bishop's Castle every Boxing Day. There's a Michaelmas Fair, end of September which, usually, we dance at. It's two days; we usually dance one day. And there's various other local things we often do. We dance at the May Fair in Clun, usually. Usually, there's a couple of other weekends we dance at, if we're around, you know. And we dance in Bishop's Castle every midsummer, big weekend. [...] There's lots of fixed local items in the diary that we try and do every year, apart from going 'round folk festivals and things, if asked, you know.
[Pause in recording]
JK: I might just continue briefly about that. I mean, I don't know if you were going to ask this, but ... And I can't remember how much I say in that talk; I've forgotten now. But, I think morris dancing was always very much tied to the local area and the local events and the local festivities. And it seems odd that some morris teams just dance at folk festivals and just dance 'round the pubs, for themselves, and they don't seem to find it important to be part of the local community. And there's a kind of separate community of morris dancers [...] Sue Swift asked me this question, on the day, and I realized afterwards what she meant, because I thought she meant, "Do you feel part of a community? Of a community?" And I thought she meant of the local community, but I think she meant the community of Border morris ... of morris dancing. And I think, as you can probably tell from [what I've said], I think we feel a little bit on the edge of it. But I think we're very much part of the area, the place where we live, which I think is what morris dancing is all about. So, perhaps you were going to ask that anyway...
JR: Actually, we weren't. But that's the great thing about interviews. It's totally fine with us if we go off on tangents. We just had a basic kind of thing we wanted you to address, or a couple basic things we wanted you to address, but tangents are wonderful. [laughter] They're often more interesting anyway! [laughter]
JK: That's right! Yeah.
Pff: Shall we cover the basic thing, then?
JR: Well, sure.
JK: Yeah, you go ahead.
JR: Yeah. Well, let's see. You wrote "Bordering on the Insane" twenty years ago, basically, and then you did this talk [for "Border Morris.- Roots & Revival"], what, in '92, which is sort of like thirteen years later, and kind of expanded on what you had already said in the article; didn't actually seem to change your mind about anything you said. Now it's 1999, so it's a twenty-year span we're looking at - well, actually, more than that, because you started the Bedlams in '75.
JK: 25 [years ago].
JR: So, we wanted to ask you what your perspective is looking back on what's gone on, really, not just with the Bedlams, but with the greater Border community.
Pff: Yeah, just the basic evolution. We have a few other sort of little sub-questions around basically what happens over time, but well come back to those later if you don't include them.
JK: ... Well, when we started, nobody in the team had done any morris dancing, except me, so I had a clean slate. So there was no problem of ... anyone bringing any preconceptions about morris dancing, or even folk music. They just ... did what I said. I didn't dwell on why we did anything. I just said, "We'll do this dance and it goes like this, and here's the tune, and it's called this," you know. And they just said, "O.K., that's nice. What's the next one?" I never did any of this academic sort of background which, some people dwell on at great length now. I mean I find it fascinating; I always want to know everything about everything. But because dancing is such a practical activity, I just was doing the dancing. And there was one bloke who used to sidle up and say, "Where does this one come from, anyway? What's this all about?" So I used to tell him, and he'd say, "Well, all right, O.K., just wondered." And then, in 1977, we came and danced here for the first time; and I sort of asked if we could come because I knew the director. And I knew perfectly well that what we were doing was quite different from everything else. And [...] you know, everyone was doing Cotswold morris then. It was still fairly early days for women doing anything, let alone men and women dancing in a group together, jointly, as it were. So we caused a sensation when we came here, and I knew that we would, but the rest of team was just saying, "What's all the fuss about? And why is everyone else dancing around with these hankies, in these white clothes, you know, and ribbons; what's the matter with them?" So I said, "What we're doing is a bit different." And it was very interesting to see that, on the whole, most of our team thought most of the morris dancing they saw here was a bit insipid and half-baked. Because the great thing about the Bedlams, when we started, was, I mean, I was ... 30. Early thirties, ... late twenties. I was twenty-eight, or something. Twenty-seven. The bulk of the team were Sixth Form age, late teens, a few other people of my age, but we were all sort of fairly fit and could thrash about with quite a vigorous approach. And so, when we started, we really sort of exploded, because we were all fairly - of an age where we could do it. It was a fabulous thing to do. We just exploded and Roy Dommett was there every stop, filming, and people with notebooks, driving me nuts, as I said in the other thing [the talk at "Roots & Revival"]. I was incensed [with] people [...] I wanted people just to look at it and think, "Wow! That's great! Let's just go back to where we live and find out what we can do with our dances." I was very upset that ... somebody as revered, rightly, as Roy Dommett, was just saying, "Oh, great, I'll film this, then I can reach it at my morris workshop tomorrow" sort of thing, so within a very short time, he was teaching all this stuff 'round the world. And ... and I was just a bit upset about that.
JR: He never asked if this was all right?
JK: No, he never asked, no. He congratulated me, that week, on what we'd done, which was nice. [laughter] Gradually, I realized that ... he would do a Border morris workshop and say, "Well, there's this dance and this dance, and then these are a couple dances that the Bediams do." And he'd just sort of teach our dances. And ... there's not many Border dances to start with, so if you're going to have any repertoire, you have to make stuff up. So, I just made up, regardless. It didn't bother me. I just thought, "Well, you know, no one's going to stop me, nobody knows about it, so I've got a free hand." And in many ways, living there in that area at that time, an awful lot of things came together which made it a perfect opportunity. If there'd been more existing morris teams in the area, or more people with dance experience, I might be much more ... limited. It was just a real chance to wipe the slate clean and start with something new.
JK: I'm working up to answering your question. [laughter] So my initial reaction was people started appearing doing basically what we were doing, and I knew what the original stuff was and I was upset that they hadn't gone back to the original stuff and made their own version of it. And, increasingly, that has happened, and increasingly, there's more and more variations, as you'd expect. So, increasingly, I've become less upset! [laughter] To begin with, I was ... furious. Not just because people I'd put lot of effort into it, and it felt like people were just taking it willy-nilly. But also, I thought, well, what a lost opportunity. There's all these bits of dances lying around in the country; there's lots of little snippets of things, some of which have been developed since, like Molly dancing was very much underdone initially, and then that's been developed into a whole new sequence of things, which is great. Well, I just thought, I've done it, why can't you go and do it? It just annoyed me, really. I think it's great that [...] morris dancing has really exploded, in style and variation and interpretation. It's fabulous that there are so many people doing so many different things based on the same few original things. I think it's wonderful. What I feel now, I think, a little bit, is that ... the Bedlams now - there's very few of the original members left, although I think the general team is still pretty much the same, but some of us - I'm fifty ... Sally, how old am I? ... fifty-one, I'll be fifty-two in a few days. There's a few other people in the team of that age, and various ages in between. We don't quite fly around like we did to start with. We've always been lucky with new members joining, but some of the young lads don't last very long because they go off to college or it becomes uncool or whatever reason. So we're always having to teach new members who might not last in the team very long; but for the moment we're doing quite well for numbers - about twenty or so. And if it's the right people dancing, I think we've still got what we always had. Sometimes, when there's a different combination of people, it's just a bit, you know, "Ah, we used to be so good at this and now it's ..." I still enjoy it; we just have fun doing it and that's what it's all about, really.
And we're still very much locally based, rather than an international team sort of thing. I think - what upsets me when I see other Border morris teams, sometimes, is that they've taken the energy and the whooping and the yelling, the sort of rough and tumble elements of it and just do that. And they've sort of missed out on the elements of very tight precision and very tricky stuff sometimes. What I like about what we do is that there are moments of just pure chaos, where everyone is more or less doing whatever they like and then [he slapped his hands together], a second later, we're in two straight lines and we've stopped dead and there's a very tricky stick thing going on.
And I love the sort of theatre of those contrasts and I've worked a lot on that. And I just think it's a pity when ... some Border teams, you just get the yelling and whooping and the chaos and there's never any contrast. It's just all noise and ... stuff. So I think, choreographically, that's a bit disappointing when you see that. But lots of people are making their own versions of it. There's a team here this week that I'm not very keen on - the Flagcrackers of Craven.
JR: I was wondering what you thought of them.
JK: They're all show, and millions of them. Fabulous, spectacular costumes, hundreds of them, everyone's playing or doing something, but they have a small number of dancers in the middle. They've got some nice figures. The thing they did on Monday night [during a show on the Arena Stage, Flashback] to Bedlam Boys, there were actually quite interesting figures in that. But the nitty-gritty of what they do doesn't do anything for me, really; it's just all very superficial. That's the typical way that Border has gone, which I just find rather disappointing because there's nothing breathtaking in what they do. They just ...
JR: There's not that moment of "Oh!"
JK: Yes. Well, that's what I've always been very pleased about - that we had some moments where it was just, like: "Wha - ! [he mimed dropping his jaw]. It just ... sort of like a magical illusion."
Pff: I've always found it strange that people don't get the essence of what the Bedlams have got, which, as you've described well, is precision anarchy.
JK: [laughter) Yeah, that's a nice way of putting it.
Pff: They seem to miss that and that's so apparent when you see a good Bedlam performance and you've described it ... beautifully.
JK: Thank you.
JR: So ... you sort of touched a little bit on something that we wanted to ask you more about, which is: Are there any apparent effects of aging on the team? [laughter] In terms of individuals' ages as well as the team itself moving through time? That's two questions. Help yourself.
JK: Well, obviously, when vou're fifty-something, you can't dance as long or as vigorously as when you're twenty-something, thirty-something. Sally and I were just saying the other day - Sally's in Martha Rhoden's Tuppenny Dish - we were just saying it's actually two or three years now since the team has had a week away in the summer, because every year, for ages, we had a week. We've been here a few times, Whitby once or twice; we've just had holidays, done our own week somewhere, and danced every day or most days. And it's been great and knit the group together socially. ... Danced a lot and have fun; a great social gathering. I am now of the age where I'm not sure if I could dance every day for a week, now. I still try and put everything into it. My biggest frustration, personally, has been that because my work takes me away a lot, I'm not always there, I have to miss a lot of what the team does, practices and dancing out. I still do the teaching when I'm there. I can feel it if I miss a week or a couple of weeks. I can feel it the next time I go back. And there's nothing worse than seeing morris dancers who are obviously a bit past it, but they can't own up to themselves. So I'm dreading the day when I have to tap meself on the shoulder and say, "Look, John, the time has come."
JK: So there's that element to it and, for myself I give the dancing everything I can when we're dancing out and then the moment it's finished I just want to hide and fall over. I'm past the stage where I just want to sit in the pub and drink seventeen pints all night. [laughter] So, for me, personally, the social thing has become less important, because I just need to go and lie down at the end. [laughter]
JR: Has it affected dance composition at all? Do you find that people are coming up with dances that are maybe not quite as physically demanding?
JK: ... That's interesting, that. There's a bloke in the team [ ] quite a young lad who was only in the team a few years, he had to move away. He's seventeen now, and it's a shame, because he was a lovely young fellow, really enjoyed the dancing. But he came up with this idea for a dance: it's not too long, it's not too vigorous, but it's just a slightly different take on the sort of thing we do. And I was delighted that he'd made it up. Because I've encouraged people, if they've got any ideas, to suggest things. Two or three people in the team have made dances up. They haven't always worked, but I've always tried to make them work. The other thing is once - we've got ... we've got quite a big repertoire. We've got over twenty dances, and when you're always getting new people in, it takes a long time to catch up with them all, because some of them are really quite tricky. Some of the dances we do, every position is different and you have to learn each position as a new thing, so it's not just like you can go anywhere and just lumber about. Some of them are like that. Some of them are just very difficult. The creation of dances has slowed down. It's been a few years since I made one up, for the Bedlams. We've actually started doing a new joint dance this year as a finishing thing, because normally when we dance, the men and women do alternate dances and occasionally we've done a dance called Old Molly Oxford [...] in parallel sets: men, women, men, women, for as many as we can get, and just go off at the end. just to finish off the spot if it's a big occasion. But not everybody likes that dance very much, so I've made up a new finishing dance that we've started this year - The Duck Race - which we've done a few times. We haven't got it quite right yet, but that's a new thing. It's hard just keeping everybody up to scratch with what we have got. I don't think it's affected the things we do in new dances because I've got a few ideas for dances we haven't got 'round to yet, but I'm not in a hurry, really, because there's a lot to consolidate before we go on.
Pff: In some ways, you've created a legend with the Bedlams [laughter], which is great, and all accolades to You for that, but are there any negatives to the fact that it is "The John Kirkpatrick Team"? What would happen, for example, if suddenly, you stopped doing it for whatever reason, or took a couple of years off? What do you think would happen to the team?
JK: I think there's enough people in the team who've been there long enough and have done the teaching in my absence, to be able to keep things going, just as it is. The present squire is one of the few original members. He joined in 1975 and he hasn't always been a consistent member all the time, but he's been around, he's seen me teaching for that long. And a few of the other people are very good at doing the teaching if I'm not there. I trust them to keep it going. Possibly, in the long term, I don't know. I have, um, blitzes on one very specific aspect of what we do. You know, like one problem we have is that whenever we do a standing still sticking chorus, it gets quicker. The speed gets quicker. So, every now and again, I'll do a lot of work on keeping time. And that's just something I gradually become aware of and as it gets worse, I say, "Right, we're gonna just do this." [...] You know, rather than just go through the dances, one by one as they come up - so I hope that the people who are there now have done that sort of thing enough to know that if something needs working on, you have to isolate it and work on it, rather than just deal with it as it comes up in a dance. That's probably the only thing that I'm very aware of doing that I think doesn't happen if I'm not 'round. In the short term, I can't see a problem. And in the long term, if I'm not there, then I'd have to accept that whatever they do is what they do. It's probably more difficult for me than for them, I expect. I don't know; I can't bear to think about it! [laughter]
[Pause for sound check.]
JR: So picking up where we left off, I guess I just wanted to ask you to expand a little bit on what you see coming up in the future. It sounds like you see it just going on, but ...
JK: Well, I hope so. I think everybody in the team ... gets a huge amount from doing it. So even if ... I think if I stop going for whatever reason, and wasn't involved, I think most of the people would still want to keep doing it. I don't think it depends on me, at all. I'm completely indispensable [sic] because I've had to be. From when we started, I've had to not be there half the time. The team doesn't need me, day to day, sort of thing. I've no idea.
When we started, I think I actually did complain to Roy Dommett that he was always there with his video camera. And he said, "Well, supposing, in three years time, you all have a row and fall apart and then there's no more Shropshire Bedlams; you'll be glad I've done this then." Which is a very good point; I will be glad that he's done it. It's nice to know there's a record of it; even if it falls apart, it's still there on Roy Dommett's videos! [laughter]
Pff: Expanding a little bit beyond the team ... I mean, definitely I think Bedlams have been one of the major elements of expanding people's interest in Border, because you've done such a good job of the excitement part of it. And you've given us a few comments on how you feel about what some of the other teams have done; sort of, if you like, doing copy-cat variants of Bedlams. But we're also in a phase, certainly in America, where Border is the current boost, where everybody wants to do something new, and there's a lot of new teams springing up. So, we're also interested in your thoughts about Border morris in general and how you feel about where that is today, and where it might be going in the future.
JK: ... Well, I think it's probably still "Flavour-of-the-Month" in England as well. A few years ago, I went to Rochester Sweeps, which is a big morris weekend in Kent, beginning of May. And I don't know how many teams there are there - about a hundred, loads and loads of teams - one of the biggest events in the country. And I'd say two-thirds of them were doing Border, of one kind or other, male, female, and mixed. Some of them were very, very good; some of them were abysmal; and a lot of them were all points in between, which is what you'd expect, I suppose. [laughter]
On the whole, personally, I find an awful lot of morris teams rather disappointing, just because I think, like we were talking earlier about the moments of precision that you can achieve, and just simple awareness of how people move, and what the effect of a figure [is] from different viewpoints, and how dramatic that can be, and how dull it can be, if you don't get the full potential of it. I think ... even if people are doing something incredibly simple, if they're doing it very well, and with great reverence for what they're doing, that'll come across. And I think one of things that worries me a bit about morris dancing generally is that there's this emphasis on the sort of superficial rambustiousness - it's especially applicable to Border - and they neglect the precision aspect of it. There are a few teams who are good at the precision stuff and an awful lot of them who aren't quite good enough. I feel that the majority are just not quite good enough, at that side of it. And I would like to think that, in the future, people will emphasize that.
When I started morris dancing, all the emphasis was on precision and doing things correctly, and right, and "this is how Cecil Sharp taught it, and arh-arh-arh-arh," you know. And then the explosion of morris dancing in the seventies kind of swept all that aside. People just making things up and doing whatever they do. And I feel that probably there's a time now to go back and say, "We've got all these hundreds of different variations that have happened over the last twenty-thirty years, let's put some of that precision back in now and make it really good." Let's finish the century with something as good as Cecil Sharp thought William Kimber was. 'Cause I ... I just think it's a bit disappointing, very often.
Last year and the year before I was the Arena director here, for the festival, and I had to choose the Morris teams. The first year was no problem because I just chose my favourites. And the second year was O.K. If I'd had to do it a third year ... I mean, apart from having different sorts of teams from year to year, and so on, it's quite difficult to find a team that's got all the precision, that's very good, but come across with lots of energy and life, good lively music, and can put across themselves on that stage. It's an awful lot to ask of a Morris team. And the best teams just do that naturally, because that's just what they do, but there's just a lot of sort of shambolic messing about in Morris dancing, and I'd like to see that that is tightened up. The best example of it is on the Friday night procession here - the Torchlight Procession - lots of people just join in at the end, lots of English Morris teams join in. There's always a scratch team here that just dances, who don't practice together, just meet for the week. And I think it's the worst damage you can do to Morris dancing. It's the end of the day, it's ten o'clock, they've all had a few drinks, they think it's great, they're having a lovely time - and I'm sure they are - but it doesn't look spectacular or impressive or even fun. It just looks a mess, and I think that's the worst aspect of Morris dancing, and that's what I would hope people deal with. 'Cause I just find it very upsetting. It's unworthy of the art.
Pff: Looking at it from the positive side, because you've covered all the things, in many ways, that aren't happening, and it's obviously very important to you that people really do a good show, they look at precision and not just the superficial thing, but also are creative to do their own thing instead of just picking up on somebody else's work. Do you feel that there is a tendency for some teams at least to be doing the sort of things that you like?
JK: Oh, yes! [laughter] Sorry, I've been very negative here. There's a group here the other night, on Monday night, Broken Ankles, an Appalachian team doing Morris dancing. Some of their ideas are fabulous: huge, big sweeping arm movements, lots of precision, because Appalachian dance teams always have lots of precision - they're very, very precise. And I'm not a huge fan of Appalachian dancing, in those sort of display teams, but they do a great job. Appalachian teams always have to apply lots of choreography because they haven't got many basic ingredients. They have to use their choreographic skills to put on a show. That's just the same as what you can do with morris dancing. Morris dancing has got much more interesting and varied basic ingredients. I think you could actually have a much more stunning show, if the same skill that was applied to Appalachian performances is applied to morris dancing. just take those steps and those movements and those big hankies and make something new. Loads of people are doing that, yes. I didn't mean that people weren't doing it. That group, Step Back [AKA Broken Ankles -ed.], I didn't like everything about what they did, but they were a wonderful impression on stage and something quite different.
And The Outside Capering Company - they have fabulous dances, using those ingredients to make something new. There was just two people here the other night, they - terrific, great, very heartening to see to that. Obviously, in a way, they're the pick of the bunch because they've been chosen because of their skill at adapting ... the presentation of dance to work on this stage which is, in a way, not necessarily the way the best morris dancing needs to be. [John was referring to Simon Pipe and, probably, Brian Mander -ed.] Morris dancing works best in the round, I think, where, you know, you're in the middle and the audience are all 'round you. That's what it should do. But there's no reason why you can't use all that stuff to make something new and interesting, and people have been doing it a long time, and this week there have been some wonderful examples of it. So that's fabulous.
JR: - I was going to ask you the shorter version of Peter's question. Perhaps a little more specific. So who are your favorite teams right now?
JR: Well, I'm not going to ask you who you don't like, but I thought I'd ask you who you do.
JK: ... Well, I think the Seven Champions Molly Dancers are fantastic. So different, what they do. When they started, it was so different, so powerful. They've still got the energy, and the precision, and that sort of madness. They're absolutely superb.
JR: They're one of my favorites too.
JK: Yes. ... um ... crumbs! ... I used to think Old Spot, Gloucestershire Old Spot Morris Dancers, were the best thing I'd ever seen, in terms of Cotswold morris, and that sort of very slow, high leaping stuff - they don't exist now, but there's a few teams who do that. Mr. Jorrock's were here a few years ago; they're very good. I'm not sure if they're still going...
JR: I think they've folded..
JK: I think so as well. That slow, really slow dancing, it's very hard to sustain and I think they managed to keep it going. Very athletic, very demanding. ... Who do I like, Sal? [laughter] ...
Sally Kirkpatrick: [inaudible] sword team.
JK: Yes! Handsworth, Handsworth. I could watch Handsworth every day forever.
There's something about the traditional morris teams, like Bampton and Headington, especially Bampton, I don't know what it is, because they seem to be doing nothing. It just looks so easy and yet it's just spellbinding. There's something about what they do that just ... is unmatchable. The simple steps, the dances are simple, nothing goes on very long. It's all just very, very simple, but they just, they've always done it, they come from there, it's their thing, and I love that element in it.
So with Chipping Campden. Chipping - I haven't seen them for years now, but Chipping Campden, they've got this fantastic lollopy style - you never see it anywhere else - they don't like other people doing their dances, which I greatly admire. [laughter] I'd be bursting to have a go at it, but I appreciate that I'm not allowed to. That's fabulous. Some of those traditional teams, they just - they know who they are, they know this comes from their area, it's in their keeping, they've got to look after it and treasure it. Some of that just comes across. And it's wonderful when you see a team who have that sort of feeling; they just know this is what we do, this is what we love, we're looking after it and we're doing the best we can with it. When you get that sort of feeling from a team, it's at least as valuable as big jumps or any of the things we've been talking about. It's just, a different feeling comes across. When you see that in a revival team, it's such a thrill to be aware of that. Just these people, just doing what they do. And it's so exciting when you see that.
There's a Northwest team I saw here a few years ago. Several years ago, Minden Rose, they come from Guildford way somewhere. And I don't know what it was about them. In fact, I was judging the morris competition that year, and I though they were wonderful. The rest of my judges thought they were awful. But they just exploded ... a Northwest team, hundreds of them, big band, huge row, and they're smiling away, laughing, just having such a lovely time and dancing perfectly well, and it was a real joyful thing to see. That just oozed out into the atmosphere of everybody watching, whereas you get another team come on being very clever and tricky and doing very fancy stuff, but it can be a bit soulless and without the spirit. It just doesn't mean anything. It's just nice when you can combine the precision and stuff with the joy and the fun of doing it. And when you get that combination, you know, of high levels of both, that's when it makes your heart sing. You can tell a good team as well, because when it's all happening, people are watching, and when they're not very good, people drift away. It's easy. [laughter]
Pff: You've been a strong advocate of women's morris, and also of style, and I think, certainly by our interpretation, correctly identified that men and women do have different dance styles and one needs to account for that. And it's certainly much harder to make a mixed team look good than it is to make a single-sex team look good, but can you think of, or do you know of any mixed teams that you personally think have cracked that particular problem and found a solution?
JK: I think probably the sort of Border "style," if you can say that word, probably allows for more ... looseness ... between men and women dancing, together than, say, Cotswold morris. I think Cotswold morris is such a very precise art, I think it's very obvious if the people have different attributes. I think it's very obvious in a Cotswold team, if a lot of thought hasn't been given to it. If you got, say, two men at the front, two women in the middle, two men at the back, for example, then that could be quite an interesting, valuable thing to see. You build on the virtues of the different dancing that people do. If it's just a jumble, it always just looks like a jumble to me. So I think the teams where it works have considered it and given some thought to it and said, "Yes, women do dance differently, men do dance differently." And it's better to have two women opposite each other than different sexes, just because the way you react to somebody of a different sex is different from the way you react to somebody of the same sex, however much you practice and try not to. One of the things, there was ... Broken Ankles, dancing here yesterday, eight women and four men. They're all doing the same thing, and there's one movement where they're sort of leaning in to somebody and then leaning out again, and leaning in, leaning out: [John mimed this]. When the women were leaning to the women, it looked O.K., and men to women was O.K., but men to men you could see them going: [John mimed a look of hesitancy or near-distaste]. They've obviously worked on it, practiced it, cheeky looks and everything, but everyone's going: [John backed away slightly with a hissing intake of air]. There's just something about the gesture; it just made me feel uncomfortable. Because they could have done any number of different things. And it just seemed, you know: "Let's be equal, let's all do exactly the same." I just think it's wrong to do all the same, all the time, because they had moments where the men were dancing, moments where the women were dancing, and then moments where they danced together, which is perfect. The things where they danced together ... should ... match ... everybody equally ... but it was just a very particular moment, I just thought, "Ooh, that makes me feel uncomfortable."
... What was the question?! [laughter]
Pff: That did actually address it quite nicely, but I was just wondering if there were any specific mixed teams that you could think of that you'd actually felt, "Yes, they've done it well."
Sally Kirkpatrick: [inaudible]
JK: I was just thinking that, yeah. There's a new team in Harrogate, called the Flag and Bone Gang who do dances that ... they've researched dances [from] North Yorkshire. An ex-Bedlam is one of the prime movers in it. We had a weekend with them last year. They wear beekeepers hats. Big wide-brimmed hats with a mask down over your head, down to your shoulders, so it's like blacking-up. You can't see their features at all; in fact, they can't necessarily see where they're going, either! [laughter] And they wear ... Do they wear black? Is it all black?
Sally Kirkpatrick: (inaudible) [They wear all black, with long red ribbons at elbows and knees. The next issue of the AMN will contain an article about the Flag and Bone Gang. -ed.]
JK: But they're very sort of shapeless, in the same way that tatters can make you shapeless, you know, a big tattered coat - which is why I said a Border style - the physical differences aren't quite so obvious, so ... they can be blurred. This team were quite sort of lollopy. I don't know, I ... I can't think of a specific team, where I think, "Yes, they've cracked it."
JR: Have you ever seen Pigsty?
JK: No. Are they American?
JR: No, they're English. I've seen ... where are they?
Pff: Bristol, I think.
JR: Bristol. I've seen them on videotape and felt very excited watching them.
JK: [inaudible] I've no doubt there's ways of handling it. I'm only saying I feel uncomfortable with it because I have to be... it just strikes me most people haven't thought about it. Whereas ... like Step Back, again, when Step Back were doing their Cotswold morris. They had ... they were all on stage in this one spot, but the men did a bit and they went off, the women came on and did a bit, and then they finally joined together at the end in something that suited them all. That's the way to cope with it, or as I say, have a partner of the same Sex.
I've heard Tony Barrand - he came over to give a talk here a few years ago - and he touched on, very briefly, the fact that when you're doing a movement with somebody of an opposite sex, you do it differently to somebody of the same sex. Something like - and it's very easy to become sexist when you describe it - but if I was banging a stick with you [to Peter], I'd just bang at it just as hard as I could, and when I was banging with you [to Jocelyn], I'd know I'd better not bang quite as hard as I can, just in case. Obviously, with practice you get used to those things, but I still think women just move differently and that's [John mimed swinging a stick] not a very graceful movement for a woman to do, but there's other things women can do that look much better. It's just exploring all those things.
One thing that's always rather surprised me, is that the style Martha Rhoden's Tuppenny Dish does, which is very feminine ... and I've not meant any of these words pejoratively, you know. I just mean they're women, so they dance like women. And when it started, they started deliberately trying to be womanly, let's say. It was the Shropshire Bedlams that caused the most ripples when we both first appeared together, and lots ... of mixed or women's teams dance Border in a style you can see is related to what we do. I'm surprised that more people, more women, haven't seen the virtue in dancing in the kind of way that Martha Rhoden's Tuppenny Dish does. Not the same exactly; I don't mean that. It's not Cotswold morris, it's something different. It's not Northwest morris, it's something else. I'm a bit surprised that more women haven't wanted to dance like that, rather than wanted to dance like Bedlams. [...] I'm just simply surprised; I'm not approving or disapproving. I just think, "Well, why don't they find another way of doing it?!" [laughter]
Pff: I don't know how much you've seen some of the morris teams that are scattered to the corners of the world because it's great that morris has expanded outwards. If you've seen foreign teams doing things, have you formed any thoughts or opinions, seen anything interesting?
JK: Really, I feel a bit out of touch, quite honestly. I love morris dancing; it drives everything I do, in a way. Most of my life I'm in folk clubs, not morris dancing, and even if I'm at a folk festival, I don't often get much chance to see what's happening. And I haven't been abroad much for a few years, either. I have seen quite a few American teams. Generally, in a Cotswold style, they seem to have a much more open way of dancing, physically, rather than very clipped and precise, like say Headington are very kind of, you know, sort of enclosed, somehow, in the way they dance; very contained. just as a general impression of what I've seen of a lot of American Cotswold teams; they're very expansive, which I think is nice. I like that quality in dancing. It's nice. I know a lot of American teams have taken the basic stuff and moved it on in quite a different way from what the English teams do, which is fine. I don't really know any more, specifically, than just that; just that obviously, everybody's accepted the idea that "here it is, do something with it." That seems to be the accepted approach now. Which is great, I think. What's good is going to be copied and spread, and what isn't very good is going to fizzle out. That's what folk dancing's always been, so that's fine. Nothing springs to mind more specifically than that.
Pff: Anything else?
JR: I was just going to say I think we've actually covered the main points we wanted to cover with you, but I was wondering if there's anything you particularly wanted to address that we haven't. [laughter] Anything you need to have a good rant about?!
JK: ... Only sort of slightly. Because I play, as well, and I think the quality of music doesn't always do morris dancing any favours. I know sometimes you're stuck with whoever you can get, especially if you're starting in a vacuum, like in North America or elsewhere in the world, where there are not hundreds of melodeon players on every street corner. It can be quite a problem. The workshop I was just doing - the melodeon workshop - just now. I try and very specifically make people think about "this is how the dance step goes, so how can you match that sort of rhythm and that ebb and flow in your music?" That's what I've just done in there. That's partly why I did this melodeon video that I've done; it's just to say you can make a real blancmange of music, if you play this, or, you can really be a big powerful rhythmic force, that will help the dancing. Obviously, not everybody plays squeeze boxes or melodeons, but it's a great vehicle for morris dance music. The closer the music and the dancing match each other, in other words, the more the musician can play with the dancing and the more the dancers can express the music - what it needs to do - the more powerful the whole thing is.
Basically, if you're a dancer, you can play it. But if you're a player, you have to put an awful lot of effort in, to understand what's happening in the dance. I know it's not always possible to get a musician who dances, or whatever the circumstances are, but very often a team of dancers can be quite good, but their music is just average to dull, and it goes down to whatever's the lowest common denominator. Whereas, if the musician is sensitive to what the dance is doing, either because they danced themselves or the dancers can explain, or whatever, the whole thing just becomes such a bigger thing, and you just whip up such a more powerful atmosphere. I mean morris magic is a very real thing, I think, and the more all these elements work together, the more tangible that is. And the more opportunities you miss, the more disappointing it is. Once you've seen it done well somewhere, it just breaks your heart to see it almost as good, but: "If only they'd ..." You know.
..... [I'm] fizzled out.
JR: Well, shall we close down?
Pff: I think so. I think that was great!
JK: Thank you.